Controlled Emotions, Inflammation, and Disease

Alan R. Jacobs, MD


July 17, 2014

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This is the Medscape Neurology Minute. I am Dr. Alan Jacobs. Persistent stress is thought to increase the risk for atherosclerosis, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular disease by evoking negative emotions that can raise levels of proinflammatory chemicals in the body. Now, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have published a study investigating the underlying neurocircuitry of this process, hypothesizing that brain activity linked to negative emotions would relate to physical signs of risk for heart disease and stroke. A total of 157 healthy adult volunteers were asked to regulate their emotional reactions to unpleasant pictures while their brain activity was measured with functional MRI. At the same time, their arteries were scanned for signs of atherosclerosis to assess heart disease risk, and serum levels of inflammation were measured as the major risk factors for atherosclerosis and premature death from heart disease. They found that individuals with greater brain activation when regulating their negative emotions also exhibited elevated blood levels of interleukin-6 and increased thickness of the carotid artery wall, even after controlling for age, gender, smoking, and other conventional risk factors for heart disease. The authors concluded that inflammation levels account for the link between atherosclerosis and brain activity patterns seen during negative emotional regulation, and that these findings have implications for brain-based prevention and intervention to improve heart health and protect against heart and cerebrovascular disease. This has been the Medscape Neurology Minute. I'm Dr. Alan Jacobs.


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